Over the past five years, the term Grievance Politics has been used often in the predominantly English-language political sociology literature. Possibilities to render it in Greek are limited: “politics of complaints” and “politics of concern” are probably the available translation options. Regardless of the terminological attribution, it can be understood as a gender concept that includes the concepts related to the individual: political protest, politics of conflict, politics of regression (politics of regression), politics of reaction (politics of backlash) , nativism/indigenousism, reactionism, politics of resentment.
However, the concept of “grievance” is not new to the study of collective action. In the 1980s, it was used in the analysis of socio-political movements to designate moral claims and objections against the “system” on the basis of which individuals mobilize in the public space when they feel be treated unfairly. So, in a sense, every claim and protest can be characterized as an expression of the politics of grievance. But this is not how the term is used in recent political-sociological and political-psychological research.
Although there is no commonly accepted definition, “grievance politics” more or less refers to bottom-up idiosyncratic mass political participation, as well as a kind of top-down exercise of power governed by moralism , negative and hostile feelings, strong personification (figurative charisma) and consequent narrowing of parties as organs of organization, mediation and representation of social interests. The intrusion of this concept is welcome because it decongests “populism”, which has come to be used as a basket category into which we put many components of “grievance politics” and more.
Within the framework of the treaty in question, a horizontal axis of political and cultural polarization is formed with the use of means of propaganda, so that on the one hand public opinion is divided on the most controversial issues of public life and on the other hand incompatible “moral tribes”, whose members perceive political reality in diametrically opposed ways. Hence Donald Trump’s ‘alternative’ realities and ‘alternative truth’ (in the relevant literature, ‘Trumpism’ more fully exemplifies ‘grievance politics’). This horizontal axis is cut by the vertical axis of social class inequalities and superimposed crises, generating intolerance and unease, but instead of being directed towards the “power elite”, they are transferred towards groups targets (immigrants, refugees, LGBTI communities, etc.).
Four interpretations of the phenomenon can be distinguished: a) The spatial interpretation, according to which the advantages of (large) cities and the greater life opportunities they offer are the envy of rural dwellers. b) The politico-cultural, which focuses on the reaction of older people against the emancipatory values and freedom of younger people. c) The socio-economic which emphasizes income inequalities and multiple social exclusion. d) Demography, which interprets it from the population movements and the negative attitude of the natives towards the new entrants who necessarily absorb part of the available resources (attitude, not unknown in Greece).
It is evident that in varying proportions the politics of grievance is (also) shaped by the indoctrination of aggrieved subjects by demagogic elites with the aid of social media. This is exactly where miserabilism thrives: being perpetually uncomfortable and resentful of the actions of one’s political opponent, usually the government. It is an attitude that despises but above all renounces everything positive that happens, on the one hand because its generous acceptance would abolish it, and on the other hand because it feeds on and adapts to “the worst is the best”.
It is a pre-cancelled satisfaction against the positive aspects of public life. It stems from overwhelming resentment and culminates in narcissistic victimization where poverty and misery become objects of pleasure. Exacerbated in the pre-election period, this attitude is expressed by the use of derogatory moral language such as e.g. that of Mr. Polakis, of Mr. Velopoulos but also of the KKE where the words “dirt”, “dirt”, “greed”, “negligence”, “shame”, “misery” are predominant. Words we hear often these days.
On the “demand” side, an important predictor is the emotional energy that is garnered and released by those involved in political processes of claim and/or concern. Their frustrations and resentments are caused by the real or perceived degradation of their social status and the pressing need for recognition, that is to say, dignity. Recall that restoring dignity was a key element of SYRIZA’s discourse during the 2015 elections. But even today, dignity and a just society are values that Greeks look forward to in 2040, according to a very recent poll. (March 2023) by the European Commission Joint Research Center and ITE (https://ourfutures.dashboard.voicesthatcount.net/).
When you feel “stranger in your country” – eponymous book by Arlie Hochschild seven years ago, an authority in the sociology of emotions – you rightly claim your home, the emotional cradle to which to belong and be respected. The question is whether this research will follow an authoritarian or democratic course.
*Nikos Demertzis is a professor of political sociology and communication at EKPA
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